The carmaker spends an estimated $3.5 billion in ads worldwide and just over $2.1 billion in the U.S., according to Kantar Media. It's the first consolidation review the auto giant has conducted since 2005, when Publicis Groupe's GM Planworks, then a dedicated GM media planning unit, beat Interpublic's MediaWorks, the GM buying incumbent at the time.
In 2008, Planworks was folded into the operations of Starcom MediaVest Group, the North American incumbent. Sources say the agency network is expected to participate in the review.
Aegis Group's Carat, which handles GM's European assignment, and Interpublic's Universal McCann, which plans and buys GM's media in Latin America, are also expected to participate. While UM could compete for additional regions, North America is not one of them, with Chrysler as a client.
The agencies referred calls to the client, and a rep there declined to identify any of the participants.
The review is not unexpected, given the arrival of Joel Ewanick at the company in May 2010 as head of U.S. marketing. In December, he was promoted to global CMO. A rep said that Ewanick and his team would oversee the review process internally, while outside consultant R3:JLB, the entity formed by the merger of R3 and Jones Lundin Beals last year, has been hired to assist.
Ewanick, previously with Hyundai and Nissan, has a reputation for shaking things up -- something he has been doing on the creative side of GM's agency roster since he arrived at the company.
Just last week, Ewanick made headlines for his public criticism of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the creative agency on the Chevrolet account. He described the shop's efforts to Advertising Age as "B and C work." Ewanick had shifted the business to Goodby within weeks of his arrival at GM. The account had been consolidated under Publicis just weeks before Ewanick's arrival at GM.
Also last year, Ewanick shifted creative duties on Cadillac to Publicis Groupe's Fallon from Bartle Bogle Hegarty after just five months.
GM issued a statement Tuesday confirming the review. "As part of its normal review of business processes, General Motors will request proposals on ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its global operations for purchased media," the company stated. "The request for proposal (RFP) will be issued to several global media companies and will include all consumer-facing planning and buying operations in support of all media channels including print, digital, broadcast, SEO and social media."
The company said it works with more than 20 media-buying companies globally. It also stressed that none of its creative agencies are included in the review.
In the GM statement, Ewanick added: "We're looking for an innovative model that helps us become more effective in leveraging global marketing opportunities more efficiently." In a nod to the incumbent efforts, he continued: "We will make a comprehensive assessment of all options before reaching a decision, and in fact, may end up validating our current approach."
It was only about a year and a half ago that GM reviewed its estimated $850 million European media assignment. At the time, it retained Carat -- which initially won the account after a review in 2006, when it prevailed over the incumbents, an Interpublic Group team consisting of both Initiative and Universal McCann.